President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 American troops from Syria, bringing a sudden end to a military campaign that largely vanquished the Islamic State but ceding a strategically vital country to Russia and Iran.
Numerous foreign policy experts and former officials and diplomats branded the decision a mistake, in part because the defeat of the Islamic State militancy — Trump’s stated reason to have troops in Syria — is not yet complete or, to use the administration’s word, “enduring.”
The White House said on Wednesday that it had already started withdrawing troops as the battle against IS was moving into a new phase.
“These victories over ISIS in Syria do not signal the end of the global coalition or its campaign. We have started returning United States troops home as we transition to the next phase of this campaign,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement, referring to the group by another acronym.
Washington is also evacuating all State Department employees from Syria within 24 hours, Reuters reported, citing a US official.
US President Donald Trump announced the defeat of IS in Syria on Twitter on Wednesday morning, while officials told news agencies that a withdrawal was imminent.
Reports of the president’s intent to withdraw from Syria sparked intense criticism from Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said pulling troops would be an “Obama-like mistake” — something Graham knows would insult the president. Vice President Mike Pence briefed senators, who expressed intense frustration over not being briefed before the president made the decision. Some said they learned of the decision from the media.
Graham said he told Pence that, “if Obama had done this all of us would be going nuts…I want hearings as soon as possible to find out, was this decision made based on sound military advice or was it in spite of it?”
Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters, “It doesn’t feel to me there was any interagency process.”
“I felt badly for the vice president because he had talking points and it’s just there’s no way he could really defend. He did what a loyal soldier would do but it was not resonating,” Corker also said.